Op-Ed: Declining STEM enrolment could see skills shortage in Australia

30 August 2018

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Participation in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) subjects have continued to decline across Australian schools, with a 2017 Federal Government report, the National Scientific Statement, reporting that enrolment had hit its lowest level in 20 years.

Written by Dr Jordan Nguyen

Speaking to students, parents and businesses across the country, it’s clear that we’re missing an opportunity. As educators, parents and participants of the STEM industry, we need to go back to the empathy and humanity that’s inherent in science, in technology, in engineering and in mathematics.

Kids across the country have a deep interest in STEM, but not in the way that we teach it in the classroom. Every day, kids are engaging with these subjects in their day to day lives by virtue of the technology they use, the things they create using that technology and the way their young minds problem solve using the fundamental principles of STEM subjects.

As the National Scientific Statement reports, performance in STEM subjects was on the decline, and if that decline continues, “Australia may be unable to supply the skills required for the future workforce.”

But – we can address the declining interest. We can all make it more interesting, more accessible and more relevant for students across the country.

Origin’s littleBIGidea competition is one of the ways that we can help our kids re-engage with STEM subjects.

The imagination and problem-solving abilities of children is unparalleled. Where adults see problem, children see opportunity, lending their incredible creativity to developing simple solutions to what are often complex problems.

That’s why I’ve partnered with Origin for the second year running for its littleBIGideas program. As head judge and ambassador, I have the unique opportunity to help encourage kids across Australia to tap in to their creative minds and put in to practice all the principles that STEM subjects encourage.

The program has been developed to help promote the innovative thinking of Australian students by rewarding young inventors and innovators and helping them realise their potential – and importantly, the program helps promote the benefits of science, technology, engineering, the arts and mathematics by helping students put elements of all of those subjects in to practice.

Last year’s winners included Amelia Fox, who, as an eight year old, designed a portable wheelchair hoist, inspired to invent the hoist after watching her parents struggling to lift her brother, Jake, out of his wheelchair after surgery – a shining example of the ingenuity to be found when we give Australian children a platform to shine.

I can’t wait to see what innovations Australia’s youngest inventors submit to Origin’s littleBIGidea competition this year – they’re sure to be game changers.

Dr Jordan Nguyen is one of Australia’s leading biomedical engineers, founder of social business Psykinetic, 2017 NSW Finalist for Australian of the Year, award-winning documentary maker, futurist, TEDx speaker, and head judge for Origin’s littleBIGidea.

Applications for Origin’ littleBIGidea are open now until 7 September at www.littlebigidea.com.au